LBJ's 50th commencement celebrates the Class of 2021 | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs proudly sent its 50th graduating cohort out into the public policy arena on Saturday, May 22, 2021. Dean David Springer greeted graduates at the top of the ceremony talking about their resilience and commitment to learning and earning their degrees during the pandemic. Class Speaker Barbara Kufiadan (MPAff '21) talked about her family and about how the Class of 2021 pivoted and changed through the last year. And commencement speaker Ibram X. Kendi talked about the important role of policy and policymakers on the long road toward racial equality in a moving and thought-provoking address.

Cynthia Osborne, associate dean for academic strategies, announced the winners of the academic awards. This year's Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation Award for Academic Excellence — awarded to members of the class with the highest grade point average — went to two students: John Fossum (MPAff '21) and Megan Morris (MGPS '21). The Emmette S. Redford Award for Outstanding Research went to (Sophia Ahmad MGPS / Middle Eastern Studies '21).

Watch the full 2021 commencement ceremony or the individual speeches below, and take a closer look at some of the members of the Class of 2021.

Dean David Springer: "I am in awe at your collective adaptability and resiliency these past months."

"It has truly been an honor to serve during these challenging times and a global pandemic. We all shifted to remote learning longer than any of us could have imagined or would have preferred. Our world, our country and our city experieced heightened events that further amplified the importance and demand for policy change and public leadership.

"To paraphrase LBJ School alumna and voting rights champion Stacey Abrams, public policy is for the valiant, not the victors. You have shown us all your valiance and your grit.

"Graduates, from this day forward, may you harness your hard-earned knowledge to answer the most significant questions of our day, advancing a more equitable and just society."


Associate Dean for Academic Strategies Cynthia Osborne announces the winners of the LBJ Foundation Award for Academic Excellence and the Emmette S. Redford Award for Oustanding Research


Class speaker Barbara Kufiadan (MPAff '21): "I ask that we continue to challenge ourselves to be better. To continue to learn and to grow. To dedicate our lives to speaking up against injustice and speaking truth to power."

"Our resiliency in the midst of adversity and the tools that we have gained from our time at the LBJ School is what puts us in the perfect position to enter into professions of public service, research, policy analysis and much more. I give this speech at a time when our nation is divided. Despite our ability to coexist, we each carry different identities that shape how we view the world. We have been able to treat each other with respect and digity regardless of affiliation.

Now more than ever, our public affairs experience is needed in all sectors, all around the world. We are embarking on emerging policy arenas such as tech policy, space policy, climate change and still battling with our preexisting but more urgent policy areas such as health policy, racial/social justice and voting rights. We are now equipped with the technical and professional experienc that we need to make a difference in these areas, as I know we all will.

During the moments that you don't feel like you can, remember that you graduated in the middle of a pandemic, racial reckoning and a Texas snowstorm. That should bring things back into perspective.


Commencement speaker Ibram X. Kendi, professor, historian, historian, anti-racist activist and best-selling author: "I am really excited to see — across the world, but especially in the United States and especially at the LBJ School — to see what these graduates, to see what you, do."

"Those of us who think very deeply about policy have to consistently think about the outcome of the policy. But too often what happens among those who are policy experts [is] when the result of a policy is not as it was intended to be by the policymaker, instead of the policymaker going back to the drawing board and saying, 'What was wrong with this policy?' instead the people are blamed.

"Another reason why I'm excited to be giving this commencement address is because I'm actually quite jealous. If I knew what I know now, I potentially would have gone to graduate school at a public policy or public affairs school like LBJ. ... What I found through my research for Stamped from the Beginning was at the core of the racial struggle — really at the core of the struggle over or for America — is a policy struggle. And when you're talking about a policy struggle, you're talking about a power struggle.

"... It's critically important that you as graduates realize just how important and vital the work that you are going to do in your career is to shaping the lives of communities."


Graduate profiles

Class speaker: Barbara Kufiadan (MPAff '21)

Barbara Kufiadan (MPAff '21)

"I am forever changed because I went through this experience with you all. We are a bunch of dedicated, hardworking, passionate people who want to leave a mark on this world. We studied, prepared and endured sleepless nights to be here today because we wanted better for our families, communities, friends, future families and people we don't even know."

Graduate profile: Carolina Mueller (MPAff '21)

Carolina Mueller (MPAff '21)

"Putting that whole process together, being able to make strategic connections and work very collaboratively with these different organizations, having a very clear vision, knowing how to make trade-offs and making sure that we are in compliance with tax and policy codes. … These are not the fun things, but these are things that I would not have been able to navigate without what I’ve learned at the LBJ School."

Graduate profile: Aaron Escajeda (MPAff / Social Work '21)

Aaron Escajeda (MPAff / Social Work '21) at Barbara Jordan Elementary School in 2020

"I decided then that I was going to go to graduate school to help immigrants, refugees and asylees, who leave countries like Brazil, and come here in search of a better life."



Graduate profile: Shu-Ching Tseng (MPAff '21)

Shu-Ching Tseng (MPAff '21)

"Grab every chance to challenge yourself! Be brave to try anything new and open to accept ideas that are the same or different from yours."



Graduate profile: Gabe Cortez (MGPS '21)

Gabe Cortez (MGPS '21)

"I felt even more confident going forward that being in graduate school was not just for the diploma, but for the knowledge and skills I developed along the way."



Graduate profile: Edda Pleitez (MGPS / Public Health '21)

Edda Pleitez (MGPS / Public Health '21)

"As I started to pull the thread of what 'being healthy' means, it led me from nutrition and our global food systems to analyzing systemic poverty and the role of international development."




Graduate profile: Jaime Cabrera (MGPS '21)

Jaime Cabrera (MGPS '21)

"I think there is a knowledge gap in tech policy between policymakers and the tech industry that can only be addressed by specializing in the intersection of the two."



Graduate profile: Micaela McConnell (MPAff / Social Work '21)

Micaela McConnell (MPAff / Social Work '21)

"I found a love for the Texas government that I did not realize I had, and a passion to challenge Texas to be the best state for every single Texan."



Graduate profile: Jiameng Zheng (Ph.D. '21

Jiameng Zheng (Ph.D. '21

"We have a supportive environment. Besides the formal events for Ph.D.s, we also organize informal nuts-and-bolts [gatherings] for professional development, practice defense and practice job talks. Because research can be solidary, peer support is essential to surviving graduate school."